16 October 2007


I recently attended the 11th day ceremony of transition after death of Seethamma, a widow from Gajulanka Village, Palakullu, Andhra Pradesh. Her husband died in 2005 and left her with 3 grown children, a son and two daughters. Seethamma was a devotee of Ramana Maharshi and Sri Nannagaru and dedicated the later part of her life in service to the Guru and studying the teachings laid down in his words and speeches.

Although I never spent personal time with Seethamma, I often noticed her at both Ramana Ashram and Sri Nannagaru Ashram and it was inspirational to see the joy she obviously received in dedicating her life to the Guru.

So, in a way it was interesting that I happened by the transition ceremony which was held at Siva Sannadhi, where I was welcomed to celebrate Seethamma’s passing by partaking of a nice, tasty lunch.


Information about death and the ceremonies surrounding it:

"Death is not treated as a mystery or entirely unwelcome like other cultures, as long as it is not a premature death (death of a child, accident, or suicide). When a Hindu has performed his/her duties; meaning got their children educated and married, seen a few grand kids, has made a pilgrimage to a holy place etc., in some circles, they are even jovial about death saying, "I am waiting for death", “When is my turn?” There is a firm belief that if one has done what is expected of them, it is time go to the feet of God, the Supreme-being. So when a Hindu has completed his/her task he/she sees the fruits of their labour and can be satisfied in knowing that everything is taken care. This is due to the fact that the majority of Hindus live in joint families; where grandparents, children, and grandkids all live together. Another reason for openness about death is that joint family means elderly people are rarely alone and are reasonably taken care of removing any anxiety about incapacitation, loneliness, and fragility.

After the cremation the actual grieving process begins. Hindu bereavement process various in length from anywhere up to 16 days from the occurrence of the physiological death. During this time the family is in mourning and is considered to be non-auspicious (dirty). Men don’t shave; women wear plain (non-coloured) cloths and don’t put on make-up or wear excessive jewellery. There is unspoken sadness and quietness settles in. There will be no celebrations unless and otherwise it had been pre-planned and can’t be cancelled like a wedding or was the wish of the deceased. Family never visits others. Depending upon the caste/social system the amount of rituals performed can vary from 3 days to 16 days. Upper caste and usually well-do-to people tend to carry out all the rituals and others do restricted versions of it.

Depending on the arrangement of the individual family the transition period is marked by friends and relatives gathering for a cleansing/thanksgiving ceremony, inclusive of food.

The person who has died occupies a revered position in the family. It is very common to see pictures or photos of them decked with flowers and garlands. The pictures are positioned besides favourite gods and goddess. There is a belief that if one doesn’t do all the rituals properly ill could come to the family. Children and grand children routinely pray to the deceased and are expected to get good fortunes from them. In one sense the perceived presence of deceased person makes everyone feel that they have never left. It is also customary to name a child born immediately after the death after the name of the deceased.”

[V. Narayanan]

No comments: